Meuer Farm has it all — Conservation, agritourism, grains, berries

Meuer Farm has it all — Conservation, agritourism, grains, berries

August 15, 2016 1:00 am  • 
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CHILTON, Wis. – Calumet County farmer Dave Meuer describes Meuer Farm LLC as a working farm that’s all about educating the public and conserving natural resources. He and his wife, Leslie Meuer, are hosting Wisconsin’s Conservation Observance Day Aug. 26, when farming, education and conservation are rolled into one big day for dignitaries and the general public.

The Meuers were named 2016 Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, a membership organization supporting the efforts of 450 county Land Conservation Committee supervisors and 350 conservation staff in 72 county Land Conservation Department offices around the state. The state winner typically hosts the state Conservation Observance Day. They were also named Calumet County Conservation Cooperator of the Year for 2016.

Meuer Farm overlooks the eastern edge of Lake Winnebago and will likely draw 25,000 or more visitors by year’s end to vicariously experience farming and to pick strawberries, sugar snap peas or pumpkins, or to purchase a myriad of other foods produced on the farm and available in the on-farm Busy Bee Country Store.

“People want to get out and experience a farm,” said Dave Meuer, who is in his first term as president of the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association. “In the last three years alone, we’ve had visitors from 38 foreign countries and 37 states.”

The Meuers also shepherd children on 3,000 school field trips each year. And because the agritourism aspects of their farm are handicapped-accessible – including their corn maze, farm-animals exhibit and wagon rides – they attract many folks in wheelchairs. Meuer said wheelchairs are easily accommodated directly from a special barn deck onto the wagon, providing first-time experiences of a hay ride for many individuals. There are 2 miles of trails on the farm.

The Meuers are collecting awards about as fast as their agritourism farm-business is growing. They received the Governor’s Tourism Stewardship Award in 2016 and the 2016 Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association Member of the Year award, one they’d also received in 2013 and 2015. They received the 2015 Leopold Conservation Award from the Sand County Foundation, and the Wisconsin Honey Producers’ Education Award in 2014.

As producers of each commodity, the Meuers belong to both the Honey Producers and the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers associations. Dave Meuer is president of the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association and has hosted berry-grower field days at Meuer Farm, which was one of the first strawberry operations in the state in 2009 to rely exclusively on drip irrigation with buried lines.

Dave Meuer is a fourth-generation lifelong farmer who grew up across the road from where he now farms. His father had purchased the property as a second farm in 1969. Dave Meuer bought it from his folks, John and Clara Meuer, in 1994. The family dairy farmed until 1983, the year of the dairy-herd buyout program. Meuer switched to hogs and was at one point up to 1,200 head on feed. He also had a beef cow-calf herd and fed 150 steers. In 1996 he went back into dairying on his present farm, starting with rotational grazing and a small parlor for a 45-cow herd of mixed breeds.

In 2009, he diversified by planting 1.5 acres of strawberries and tapping maple trees. He planted a corn maze, which in its first year drew 6,500 people. In 2010, he added another 1.5 acres of strawberries and a pick-your-own operation launched. The weather cooperated and farm visitors more than doubled. In December 2010 he liquidated the dairy and returned to beef cow-calf pairs, which he still rotationally grazes.

The Meuers were married in 2013. Leslie Meuer, who is originally from Maine, was an architect who now co-manages Meuer Farm, shouldering farm advertising and financial recordkeeping. Dave Meuer has two adult children not involved in the farm, which consists of 150 acres owned and 40 rented.

Visitors peak during the corn-maze and pumpkin-patch season; the Meuers have about 25 part-time employees in the fall. Dave Meuer said he likes to hire retired farmers who want to drive tractor for hayrides. The 10-acre corn maze, for which Meuer plants non-genetically-modified corn, runs from Sept. 9 through Oct. 31 for the general public. Friday and Saturday nights families can go through the maze after dark, carrying glow sticks.

The Meuers grow non-genetically-modified sweet corn, cash-crop soybeans, soft red winter wheat – primarily for straw to mulch the berry patch but also for pastry flour, alfalfa, a half-acre of pick-your-own sugar snap peas and about 20 acres of specialty grains. The latter is a boom area for the Meuers, who are tapping into the public’s anti-gluten sentiment and interest in ancient grains. They grow oats, durum wheat, spelt and Emmer. The latter is a type of ancient wheat that’s planted in the spring.

The Meuers market virtually everything they can think of from their farm – maple syrup, honey, strawberries, sweet corn, pumpkins, squash, corn stalks, straw bales for various purposes including straw-bale gardening, grass-fed beef, pork, eggs and broilers. They have a wide variety of packaged specialty grains and products containing those grains, such as granola, bread and cookies. They pick on their property and sell black walnuts, hickory nuts, apples, elderberries, gooseberries and even puffball mushrooms.

Depending on the end use, specialty grains are dehulled on-farm and taken to a certified kitchen offsite, where they’re ground. Oats are made into flour or sold as fresh rolled oats or groats. Durum wheat, spelt and Emmer is made into flour or sold as berries. The couple sells specialty grains to bakeries, breweries and restaurants as well as in their farm store and online. They also sell pastas made with the specialty grain. Three years ago they launched farm-to-table dinners. Upcoming dinners will be held Aug. 18 and Sept. 15. They work with a chef to serve 80 people while providing demonstrations and farm education.

“People want to know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Dave Meuer said. “Farming is new and different for them. They want to learn more.”

Meuer said the Aug. 26 Conservation Observance Day will be attended by county board members, as well as staff from the Conservation Department, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Also attending will be farmers and others interested in protecting natural resources. There will be speakers, lunch and tours of the farm. Guests will see a wildlife food plot, a spring-fed pond out of which the couple drip-irrigates strawberries, managed pastures, bee habitat on fencerows, stream management, minimum tillage, managed woodlands and more, including bald eagles that nested on the farm this year.

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Aug 26 at N2564 U.S. Highway 151, Chilton. RSVP to Rose Faust at Calumet County Land and Water Conservation at Faust.Rose@co.calumet.wi.us or 920-849-1442. Visit www.meuerfarm.com or www.wisconsinlandwater.org or call 920-418-2676 for more information.